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India's chances hinge on bowling

M R Mishra | March 12, 2004 16:45 IST

The Indian team will like to forget the nightmarish start it had on Thursday when it takes on Pakistan in the first One-Day International in Karachi on Saturday.

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Having travelled across the border for a full series after 15 years, India's fate in the opening encounter hinges on the performance of a depleted bowling attack, which was torn to shreds by a second string Pakistani side in Thursday's warm-up match in Lahore.

Although the visitors have a star-studded batting line-up, regarded as one of the best in the world, the bowling could be the chink in the armoury as India set out to create history by winning their first-ever Test series on Pakistan soil.

The shocking six-wicket defeat to Pakistan 'A', a team comprising fringe players and some Test discards, should serve as a wake-up call for Sourav Ganguly and his men, basking in the glory of a successful series against Australia recently.

The pathetic display by the Indian bowlers, many of whom are returning from niggling injuries, will be a worrying factor for the team management, and coach John Wright has already taken his bowlers to task for their poor show in Lahore.

"It's a jolt for us, and we have got to sort things out. The bowlers bowled poorly and they have to improve when the series gets underway," Wright said.

Millions of cricket fans on either side of the border will be glued to their television sets to witness what promises to be a classic contest. When rival captains Ganguly and Inzamam-ul Haq walk out for the toss at the National Stadium, it will mark a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations. The game of cricket will serve as a bridge to normalize relations between the two nuclear neighbours.

The path-breaking series, which was almost into jeopardy because of the Parliament elections in India, will also witness unprecedented security arrangements to ensure that no untoward incident takes place during the 40-day tour.

The Indian batsmen will be eager to maintain the form they showed against Australia Down Under and the month-long break should have increased their appetite for runs. The warm-up match showed that most of the top order batsmen are in fine nick. The flat pitches in Pakistan will provide them the perfect stage to exhibit their prowess.

Star batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who scored a sparkling 76 in the practice match, showed no signs of the stiff back which troubled him during the three-day camp in Kolkata and it must have come as a huge relief for the Indian team management.

The maestro, who made his debut in Pakistan as a 16-year-old in 1989, is the only player to have played in a Test match between the two countries in Pakistan. His experience will come handy for the tourists, most of whom are on their first visit across the border.

Opener Virender Sehwag and the dependable Rahul Dravid were also among the runs in the warm-up game while the stylish VVS Laxman, who had an outstanding tour of Australia, also spent some time in the middle.

The absence of three key bowlers -- Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and Ajit Agarkar -- due to injuries has weakened the Indian bowling to a great extent. Pace spearhead Zaheer Khan has just come back from a groin injury and not played much cricket in the domestic season while fellow left-armer Ashish Nehra is also returning from an injury.

Two other pacemen, Irfan Pathan and Lakshmipathy Balaji, were quite successful in Australia but lack the experience to pose much of a threat in such batting conditions. Both the newcomers were clobbered all over the park in the warm-up match, which may have dented their confidence to some extent.

The home team has a very good pace attack, led by Shoaib Akhtar, while Mohammad Sami has also improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. The two have the pace to unsettle the best batsmen on their day and it remains to be seen whether they can make much of an impact against the Indians, who are slowly shedding the tag of being vulnerable to genuine pace.

Shabbir Ahmed, who has rejoined the team after correcting his bowling action, is a doubtful starter because of an injury and the team management could be prompted to let loose the highly-promising Iftikhar Rao.

The 23-year-old paceman has the reputation of bowling a good line and length and can also swing the ball. Rao could prove quite handy in the shorter version of the game.

The recall of wily off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, who has a very good record against India, will add variety to the bowling attack.

Although the home team has a formidable bowling attack, the batting lacks the experience though some of the youngsters at the top of the order, like Imran Farhat and Yasir Hameed, have already made a mark at the highest level.

Yousuf Youhana and captain Inzamam are the two most experienced batsmen in the team.

All the tickets for the match have been sold out well in advance, reflecting the kind of interest the series has generated.

Over 3000 security personnel have been deployed to ensure a trouble-free match at the venue where many of the visiting teams had refused to play because of security concerns.


India (from): Sourav Ganguly (captain), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Murali Kartik, Ramesh Powar, Parthiv Patel, Hemang Badani, Ashish Nehra.

Pakistan (from): Inzamam-ul Haq (captain), Imran Farhat, Yasir Hameed, Yousuf Youhana, Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul Haq, Abdur Razzak, Shoaib Malik, Moin Khan, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Younis Khan, Shabbir Ahmed, Iftikhar Rao, Rana Naveed-ul Hasan, Saqlain Mushtaq.

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